Eastern State Penitentiary is a museum in the ruins of one of America’s oldest prisons. It is also home to Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house. They wanted a responsive redesign of the websites for both their Historic Site and the annual Halloween attraction.
Balancing Disparate Audience Needs
Eastern State Penitentiary’s Historic Site and Terror Behind the Walls are operated by the same staff at the same location, but they have very different audiences. To balance staff needs with audience expectations, we designed the two websites separately but with parallel structures. Our similarly customized Drupal back ends make content entry and updates easy for staff, and complementary front end structure and navigation create a consistent, familiar user experience for website visitors. We also included a quick toggle option in the header of each page so that visitors can easily navigate between the two websites. To differentiate the websites for their respective audiences, we conducted two distinct design processes, including mood boards, design treatments, review meetings, and revisions.
We worked to balance the often-competing goals of evoking the mood of the Historic Site with positioning Eastern State Penitentiary as an institution that facilitates dialogue on contemporary issues. We facilitated conversations to hear out varying perspectives and concerns, then prepared a range of design options from grimy and ruined to contemporary and clean.
We held a series of meetings with individual departments to more precisely determine goals for both the Historic Site and Terror Behind the Walls. We learned that Eastern State Penitentiary was in the midst of a strategic planning process and had big goals for the future of the websites, including a collections database, more content around current corrections, and CRM integration; so we built the websites to accommodate their existing content, and to be flexible enough to add these additional features when they’re ready. We facilitated hands-on design studios with Eastern State Penitentiary staff to determine content structure and layout.
We conducted user testing at Terror Behind the Walls, immersing our team at multiple experiences in order to get real user feedback from a wide range of audience demographics. This testing/feedback informed a number of our design recommendations, including making the ticketing calendar more prominent and adding animation to the attractions map to highlight the option to watch video.
Improved Experience onsite, online and on mobile
We created an interactive HTML map for each website with a custom overhead graphic of the prison so that visitors can preview the on-site experiences from anywhere around the world. Terror Behind the Walls Attractions features preview videos of each unique attraction within the haunted house. We embedded Indoor Google Street View panoramas of the prison interior on the Historic Site Online Tour, along with summary text for featured stops.
At Terror Behind the Walls, mobile ticket sales keep box office lines short, and allow for VIP upgrade options before visitors enter. We designed around the mobile experience, prominently featuring ticketing options and creating menu navigation that’s easy to use on mobile, and that also works well on desktop for a consistent, familiar user experience.